Are Tottenham Good Enough To Play Champions League Football?
While Tottenham Hotspur's impressive victories over Arsenal, Chelsea, and Manchester City have won the club a fourth-place finish in the Premier League, the prospect of a two-leg qualifying tie against an experienced Champions League campaigner such as Ajax, Lyon, or Werder Bremen to make the group stage of the world's most prestigious club tournament should sober up celebrations before they get out of hand.
Despite a final day 4-2 defeat away to Burnley this afternoon, Spurs have racked up a record 70 points this season, keeping 13 clean sheets on the way. Towering victories over some of the best teams in the country have been tempered by a worrying inability to turn chances into goals to dispatch some of the league's lesser sides.
What will please Tottenham fans who have watched their side throughout the season is that so many players have contributed to the success: the squad boasts the highest number of goalscorers this campaign.
In this way, players like Gareth Bale, David Bentley and Tom Huddlestone, who were previously disregarded by Spanish coach Juande Ramos, have stepped up and contributed at important moments. Three of the club's strikers hit hat-tricks, with the fourth, Roman Pavlyuchenko, firing the team to many a victory in the New Year.
These are players who have polarized opinion: do they have the ability and attitude to drive a club like Tottenham forward in a climate where the gap between the rich and the poor, success and failure expands every year?
They have answered their critics in the most positive fashion this year, but can they find accelerate into Champions League gear or will they stall at this important crossroad?
A Brazilian in goal, you say?
Thirteen clean sheets in 38 games is no fluke and, while Tottenham's Brazilian No. 1 endured a calamitous start to his career in England, this season the long-limbed ex-PSV stopper has grown considerably in stature.
Heurelho Gomes's performances away to Portsmouth and at home to Arsenal were particularly memorable, and he can claim to have a played an important role in his club's success. Having already had some international and Champions League experience, he will enjoy Harry Redknapp's unwavering support and trust next season.
Carlo Cudicini, who suffered demoralising injuries in a motorcycle accident at the end of 2009, should return to action in preseason. His calming presence and experience at Chelsea will mean that Tottenham's defence is in good hands for a while yet.
Beware of the Flanking Maneuver!
When asked recently about where he could make additions to the squad over the summer, Harry Redknapp shrugged off doubts about the fitness of some of his defenders, insisting instead that he has more than enough depth and quality in that area of the pitch.
However, right-back Vedran Corluka's injury has highlighted a weakness in the team, one which Tottenham's opponents have been quick to target in recent weeks.
Against Sunderland, Redknapp asked inexperienced youngster Kyle Walker to fill in for the Croat. At Manchester United, left-back Benoit Assou-Ekotto had the unenviable task of stopping Ecuadorian Antonio Valencia from penetrating Tottenham's penalty area.
More recently, Younes Kaboul has made a better of fist of meeting the physical and tactical requirements of the position, showing commendable intelligence and fleet of foot against Manchester City and Arsenal.
On the left side of defence, Cameroonian Assou-Ekotto has had his ups and downs. With a poor disciplinary record and a tendency to dive into tackles in and around the box, Spurs legend pinpointed the dreadlocked maverick as a "liability." For the most part however, he has proved to be a solid defender and skillful on the ball.
In spite of the debilitating injury that threatens to bring a premature end to Jonathon Woodgate's career, it is in central defence in particular that Spurs have excelled this season.
Previously known for being weak through the middle, Tottenham have kept clean sheets this year at Blackburn, Fulham, Manchester City, and Wigan and were rarely troubled at White Hart Lane by champions Chelsea—who scored seven goals or more in a league match on four occasions this season.
Michael Dawson has been Tottenham's best player this season and will go to South Africa for the World Cup, as will Ledley King, who has shown recently that he has learnt to managed his knee injury. Even when Woodgate is missing, Redknapp can call on either Bassong or Kaboul, while full-back Corluka and defensive midfielder Tom Huddlestone are accomplished players in this position.
While Alan Hutton and Kyle Naughton will return from successful loan spells, reinforcements will need to be made at left-back.
Finding the right balance in midfield
Tottenham have so many options in midfield, it is no wonder that Harry Redknapp has used so many different combinations over the course of the season.
In fact, such was the confidence Tottenham's manager enjoy in his first-choice midfielders, he was able to send no fewer than five players on loan for most of the season.
With the likes of Giovani Dos Santos, Jamie O'Hara and Adel Taraabt due to return to White Hart Lane over the summer, Redknapp will have some tough decisions to make.
As most fans see it, the likes of Croatian duo Luka Modric and Niko Kranjcar and young England midfielders Tom Huddlestone and Aaron Lennon must remain at all costs, while Honduran Wilson Palacios adds some much needed bite to the his more fertile colleagues.
With Sandro due to arrive from Internacional in the summer and Jamie O'Hara receiving much praise for his excellence in adversity over at Portsmouth, Jermaine Jenas will be looking for a new club.
It is also difficult to see how free spirit Dos Santos or mercenary Taraabt fit into Redknapp's plans, although the former may persuade his boss to give him another chance if he can perform in South Africa for country Mexico.
Despite possessing a wealth of talented players in every position, the team still lacks a midfielder of Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard or Paul Scholes's ilk, one who will score 10 or more goals a season and set up many more.
Little and large—does it work?
With 47 goals between them in all competitions this seasons, Tottenham strike trio of Crouch, Defoe, and Pavlyuchenko have all excelled at different times this season. They have also all disappeared on many others, and none has proven that he has the ability to unlock the best defences in the world.
At the start of the season, you could have been forgiven for tipping Defoe to walk away with the Golden Boot. Now, he seems a shadow of the player who so ruthlessly destroyed Hull, Leeds, and Wigan with blistering hat-tricks.
The taller Crouch and Pavlyuchenko have often played to a very high standard, with the latter scoring ten goals in eight matches at one stage.
Yet, no combination of these players has even come close to compare with the beautiful and deadly footballing relationship with which Dimitar Berbatov and Robbie Keane lit up so many football games.
Although Keane seems to have been reinvigorated by his highly promising goalscoring displays in Scotland, which have earned him Celtic's Player of the Season award in little more than four months, it is to be questioned whether his miserable spell at Liverpool and drab return to Tottenham have damaged beyond repair his confidence as a Premier League forward.
If Wayne Rooney continues to struggle with his injury, Crouch and Defoe have a heavy weight of responsibility to carry at the World Cup for England and will need to up their games. Tottenham fans should pray for such a scenario, as it will prove to be a litmus test for whether they can rely on little and large to do the job for the club on the continent, where chances are more ephemeral than in league matches.
Nevertheless, expect Redknapp to concentrate on this area of the pitch during his recruitment drive—Tottenham need a big name with lots of Champions League goals and pedigree to lead their line and feed on the numerous chances which Bale, Lennon and Modric will always create.
No transfer activity expected
Possible Departures: Kyle Walker (loan), Alan Hutton, Dorian Dervitte, Johnathon Woodgate (retirement)
Possible Arrival: Micah Richards, Taye Taiwo
Possible Departures: Adel Taraabt, Giovani Dos Santos, Jermaine Jenas, Jake Livermore
Possible Arrivals: Sandro (transfer completed), Stephen Ireland, James Milner
Possible Departures: Eidur Gudjohnsen, Robbie Keane, Roman Pavlyuchenko
Possible Arrivals: Craig Bellamy, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Radomir Falcao
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